Meyers Leonard of the NBA’s Miami Heat, who is also an investor in the esports team FaZe Clan, is effectively suspended from both clubs following a bewildering Twitch livestream incident during a game of Call of Duty: Warzone in which he directed an anti-Semitic slur at an unknown player.
The blowup centers on a moment during Leonard’s stream Tuesday afternoon, where he’s apparently shot at from somewhere across the map. It’s unclear if Leonard knows who he was directing the slur at, or if that person is even Jewish. A clip of Leonard using the slur was uploaded to YouTube, and you can watch it below. The slur in question is a reference to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, entering use around the turn of the previous century.
Leonard’s behavior was noticed immediately — it became Twitter’s top trending topic for a while — and condemnation poured in. On Tuesday evening, the Heat — owned by the Israeli-American billionaire Micky Arison — said that Leonard “will be away from the team indefinitely.” The team added that “to hear it from a Miami Heat player is especially disappointing and hurtful to all those who work here, as well as the larger South Florida, Miami Heat and NBA communities.”
Statement from the Miami Heat on center Meyers Leonard: pic.twitter.com/RmRaLZ1bxR— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 10, 2021
The NBA is also conducting an investigation of Leonard’s conduct. FaZe Clan, in a statement earlier Tuesday evening, noted that Meyers is “not a member of FaZe,” but said “we are cutting ties with him.”
Leonard said he “didn’t know what the word meant at the time,” but “my ignorance about its history and how offensive it is to the Jewish community is absolutely not an excuse and I was just wrong.” Leonard also apologized to the Heat’s ownership, his teammates and coaches, and said he would “properly [seek] out people who can help educate me about this type of hate and how we can fight it.”
Plenty of damage is already done, however. Two sponsors, Origin PC and Scuf (both are owned by the same company, Corsair), tweeted on Tuesday afternoon that they were dropping Leonard. In 2019, Leonard invested an undisclosed amount in FaZe, wearing custom sneakers with the group’s logo during his April 9 game for the Portland Trail Blazers. (Leonard was traded to Miami in July 2019, and signed a multiyear contract with the Heat in November 2020.) It’s unknown whether FaZe’s disassociation means Leonard will get his stake back.
Very proud to announce that I am joining @FaZeClan !! As many of you know, gaming is a huge passion of mine. I am excited to be a part of the premier organization in the space and continue building my brand in the world of gaming/esports. #FaZeUp pic.twitter.com/NQhmY8yNTM— Meyers Leonard (@MeyersLeonard) June 5, 2019
Sports commentators have also noted that Leonard had already attracted controversy when he was the only Heat player standing while the rest of the team knelt for the national anthem when the league resumed play in August. Leonard later said he did not view kneeling as disrespectful to the country, but that “I have a good heart and I care about everyone. I was raised to love all people, period.”
Meyers Leonard, a center from Illinois, was a first-round draft pick (No. 11 overall) in 2012, and played his first seven seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers. He did not become a regular starter until 2019-2020, his first year with the Heat, and has appeared in only three games this year, following a season-ending shoulder injury on Jan. 9.
Update (March 11): The Miami Heat fined Leonard $50,000 and suspended him from all team activities and facilities for one week, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. The NBA is also requiring him to participate in a cultural diversity training program.